Pregnancy should not cost women their paychecks. But that's exactly what happened to UPS delivery driver Peggy Young when she became pregnant in 2006.
Under doctor's orders not to lift anything weighing more than 20 pounds, she asked her employer for light-duty work, an accommodation UPS is required to give under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and frequently offered to other employees with a similar need.
But UPS said no and forced her to take unpaid leave for six months, depriving her of income, benefits and health insurance at a time when she needed them the most. When she asked for an explanation for why she did not qualify for an accommodation other employees were getting, a senior manager told her she could not even enter the building. Her pregnancy was too much of a liability.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, UPS permits light duty for drivers injured on the job or who have a qualifying disability. Even drivers who lose their licenses after a DUI offense are given alternative work to do. But women who get pregnant? You're too big of a risk for a company that puts more than 96,000 vehicles on the road each year.
Those are the ugly details of a case now before the Supreme Court in which the Justices must decide if UPS violated the law by refusing to give pregnant workers the same light-duty accommodation they give to other workers.
Unfortunately, what happened to Peggy Young is an all too common occurrence for moms in the workplace today. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports a 35 percent increase over the past decade in pregnancy discrimination claims against employers. It's truly unfathomable that in 2014 we are still having this 20th Century debate.
Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978 with the clear intent to prevent employers from pushing pregnant women out of the workforce. However, corporations like UPS continue to exploit vague language in the law to do just that, with terrible consequences.
Women make up nearly half of our nation's labor force, two-thirds of us are our family's primary earners and 75 percent of us will become pregnant at some point during our working life. So when absent, outdated or vague labor laws allow companies to demote, pass over for promotion or fire women when they become pregnant, it doesn't just hurt us, it hurts all our families.
This discrimination contributes to the staggering wealth inequalities that damage our economy and keep working families - and in particular working moms - from getting ahead. They earn less over their lifetimes and save less for retirement. It is even worse for women in low-wage or manual-labor jobs. These are women with far fewer resources to withstand a loss of income or benefits than their white-collar or union-represented counterparts. Losing their jobs during pregnancy would be devastating.
It's time for the policies and laws that govern our workplaces to catch up to the modern day realities of work and family life. Women in any profession should be able to take leave during and after a pregnancy without the risk of losing everything or setting their careers back.
UPS has voluntarily updated its policies giving pregnant women the option to work light duty. But that move only underscores the need for stronger, clearer protections in federal law that apply to every worker in every state. A good place to start is with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act recently introduced in Congress. You can help ensure it passes by signing this petition here.